The Piña Colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico, where the name means “strained pineapple.” While several bartenders claim ownership of the drink's creation, it can most likely be traced back to the 1948 invention of Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut (emulsifiers and all) in Puerto Rico, which meshes nicely with claims that the drink itself was born at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan in 1952.
Feel free to do your own research, but let's not argue semantics when booze and tropical fruits are at stake. Aside from an island locale like Puerto Rico or Hawaii, there are few finer places to drink a Piña Colada than in Southern California (sorry Florida). So, if you find yourself in a tropical mood today — or any time this summer — here's six great bars where you can sample this pineapple-coconut delight. ]
6. Big Bar at Alcove: Mo Chi Chi
The Chi Chi is the non-rum drinker's answer to the Piña Colada. Vodka subs for the sugarcane spirit, making for a lighter, brighter drink. Former Big Bar manager Dan Long came up with this for last year's Art Beyond the Glass event and managed (thank you!) to put it on the menu before he left. The combination of house-infused coconut vodka, pineapple juice, Amontillado sherry and lime create a slightly sweet, slightly zingy tropical sipper, while the toasted coconut echoes the nuttiness of the sherry. 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; 323-644-0100.
5. 320 Main: Mexican Morphine
Jason Schiffer is known for mixing up classics more than a little bit. His Genever Lemon Drop puts a spin on the girlie classic and, for summer, his Mexican Morphine (mezcal, pineapple juice, lime and orange juices, cream of coconut, Old Fashioned bitters) uses mezcal to create a Piña Colada/Painkiller love child, complete with flaming lime shell (sugar cube and Lemon Hart 151 rum concealed inside). “When we juice limes for the night we save a few extra expressed lime shells for our Mai Tai's and the Mexican Morphine,” says Schiffer. “We float the lime shell on top of the drink, placing a sugar cube inside the shell. We then soak that cube with a little Lemon Hart 151 and light it! The sugar cube feeds the fire so she'll burn longer. When the drink arrives, we drop a pinch of cinnamon on the flame and everybody ooohs and ahhhs.” Schiffer offers the reminder that, lest you get too enthusiastic about the presentation, please don't drink the lime shell. 320 Main St., Seal Beach; 562-799-6246.
4. Warwick: La Piña Colada Gigante
Feeling the need to share a loving cup-size Piña Colada with your summer sweetie? Along with their beach party transformation for the season, Warwick has two bartenders who like to play with drinks. Witness Damian Windsor and Jason Bran's Frankenstein-ish La Piña Colada Gigante, which uses Caña Brava rum (created in the classic Carta Blanca, Cuban-style) plus fresh pineapple juice and housemade coconut cream. Served in a hollowed-out pineapple shell, these babies go fast so when they're gone for the evening, they are gone, baby, gone. 6570 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; 323-460-6667.[
3. Honeycut: Piña Colada Slushee
Summer isn't summer without a slushee, and Honeycut has you covered on that account. The Proprietors' spot is known for its disco-down atmosphere — and there's nothing more '70s than a Slurpee machine with a Piña Colada (with Coco Lopez and coconut water, plus pineapple juice, lime, and two rums) whizzing around gleefully. Bar manager David Fernie points out that, while housemade coconut cream is indeed lovely, “it's important to use Coco Lopez here because it's the invention and availability of that that heralded the birth of this iconic beverage. Preparing this drink in the slushee machine allows both the velvety textures of the coconut and the pineapple to shine. It really accentuates the elements that made this one of the most easily session-able cocktails in history.” And that means, you can drink more than just one as you party the night away. 819 S. Flower St., DTLA; 213-688-0888.
2. Harlowe: Genever Lopez
GM Kyle Ackley and bar manager Chris Amirault collaborated on this unexpected, old-timey twist on the island classic. Dutch Genever, the whiskey-like forefather of gin, and Batavia Arrack (an East Indian pseudo-rum that uses sugarcane and fermented rice), plus pineapple syrup, lemon, Coco Lopez and Miracle Mile red eye bitters blend together for a more malty cocktail. Bartenders love genever because, as Ackley says, it's “such a versatile spirit. Chris and I have dubbed it 'whiskey light.' Its malty quality actually acts as a lovely backbone for tiki cocktails, and in this case, other than making a great pun, makes a great marriage with coconut.” 7321 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo; 323-876-5839.
1. Eveleigh: Piña Colada
A drink — or two or three — at Eveleigh's Back Bar under the aegis of market-fresh-ingredient-loving bartender Dave Kupchinsky is a rite of passage for any cocktail lover. Kupchinsky likes to mix things up when it comes to familiar drinks, and that's quite apparent with his Piña. The combination of a spiced syrup that spotlights pepper and anise, as well as lime juice, helps cut back on the often cloying sweetness the traditional concoction can have. Nutmeg on top complements the savory lime notes, which make the drink more refreshing — and that means you can keep drinking them until the sun goes down without fear of sugar shock. In Kupchinsky's tongue-in-cheek opinion, “Piña Coladas are good.” And, while many bartenders have started doing this, Kupchinsky has been hand-pressing his pineapple juice for ages, so this drink truly is a fresh dose of tropical sunshine. 8752 Sunset Blvd.; West Hollywood; 424-239-1630.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book “Gin: A Global History.” Her book “The 12 Bottle Bar,” co-written with David Solmonson, will be released on July 29. Email her at email@example.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.